June 29, 2010

Hoppin' good

"They were all eating out of the platter, not speaking, as is the Spanish custom. It was rabbit cooked with onions and green peppers and there were chickpeas in the red wine sauce. It was well cooked, the rabbit meat flaked off the bones, and the sauce was delicious. The girl watched him all through the meal. Everyone else was watching his food and eating. Robert Jordan wiped up the last of the sauce in front of him with a piece of bread, piled the rabbit bones to one side, wiped the spot where they had been for sauce, then wiped his fork clean with the bread, wiped his knife and put it away and ate the bread. He leaned over and dipped his cup full of wine and the girl still watched him."
--For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Do you think Hemingway ever had a meal just like that? Literature doesn't get much more realistic than that bread-sauce dipping sequence. When a meal is that good, you would definitely use bread to sop any residual sauce from both your plate and your fork. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to pick up on this, but methinks it be no mere coincidence that Robert affectionately refers to Maria as his "rabbit" later on.

I had my first bread-soppingly delicious rabbit a few months ago. Prepared with the bones still attached, it ended up tasting a lot like chicken, except leaner and more complex in flavor (or perhaps I just interpreted novelty as complexity). I had, however, no bread with which to sop, so I made do with my bed of rice, the Asian way.

June 15, 2010

Spuds of summer

"When I woke up we had the carriage to ourselves; and my mother unpacked our picnic basket, a handsome wicker affair, the kind people then used to give as wedding presents, although wedding presents were probably something else my mother had missed out on when she eloped with my father. There were ham sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, barley water, and a thermos of tea for Mother. And apples – their skin wrinkled by winter storage – to clean our teeth and freshen our mouths afterward."
--The Fox's Walk, Annabel Davis-Goff

What a charming picnic basket. Today, I had an intense craving for hard-boiled eggs. I don't even remember how long I cooked them, but they came out perfect – no ring around the yolk, and pleasurably easy to peel. These served as a humble base for a simple microwave-cooked-potato-plus-egg salad – no mayo, but plenty of garlic mustard aioli from TJ's. A dash of Old Bay rounds out the recipe. Yum.

Sandwiches, fruit, and the like always make me think of summer. I think I ate 2.5 fruits today. That's about as much fruit as I had all winter. A cold, fruitless winter 'twas. I would award myself with a pat on the back, but it seems that I also had three cookies...meaning I probably consumed an inordinate amount of sugar.

June 14, 2010

To sleep, perchance to write

"I am the canker of my brother Sage's life. He has told me so in no uncertain terms. Tonight as we eat hamburgers in the car on the way to our first scuba class, he can't stop talking about the horrible fates that might befall me underwater. This, even though he knows how scared I am after what happened last November."
-The Isabel Fish, Julie Orringer
As far as car food goes, I prefer spam musubi to hamburgers. But in the tastiness hierarchy, spam musubi ranks below some (including a certain Shack Stack), but not all, cheeseburgers. The addition of eggs bumps spam musubi much higher – probably close to a tasty cheeseburger. Now that that's settled, The Isabel Fish was one of my favorite stories from Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater. It's rare for me to feel immersed in a short story, since it's so, well, short – but some of the ones in this collection really pack a punch.

In Roald Dahl's Lucky Break, he explains that if you wish to become a fiction writer, "You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader's mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don't." 

A good fictional tale does not just pluck you from your life and shove you into another world. Personally, I think movies are more successful at that particular task. Rather, it still allows you to be you – but it also beckons you to slip into this other person, leading this other life, fashioned from and connected through language. This experience is almost like being in a dream – you might realize, somewhere in the back of your mind, that it's not real, yet you can't help but feel fully absorbed by it. As such, those of us not gifted enough to "make a scene come alive" can take comfort in the idea that we all become fantastic fiction writers when we sleep. Alas, retrieving that gift upon waking is another matter.

June 9, 2010

mistress distress, and eggs

A clever pun...
"But I am the classic mistress."
He held both her hands. This gave an impression of restraining her from doing harm. "Don't be censorious. You look like a schoolteacher."
"The Classics mistress." They both laughed, but then she said, "What will happen to us?"
"Who can tell?"
...and a sensible use for boiled eggs in the wintertime:
"All the girls of London shuddered, waiting for the bus. Some had knitted themselves unbecoming brown Balaclavas, with worse mittens to match. Some held a boiled egg, still hot, in their glove--which warmed the hand, and could be eaten cold at lunchtime in the ladies' room. At that hour all London was ashudder, waiting for the bus."
--The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard
Shirley Hazzard, you are a genius.

June 7, 2010

Playing Changman

Jennifer 8. Lee's Fortune Cookie Chronicles puts a spotlight on many aspects of Chinese-American cuisine that I never really thought about. For instance, soy sauce packets don't taste very much like soy – and why would they? If you look at the ingredients, they're just brown-colored salt water - nothing at all like genuine, brewed soy sauce.

This book also enlightened me to the fact that P.F. Chang's (the restaurant chain) was not founded by a Chang, as I had assumed, but instead by a man named Paul Fleming. He most likely appended a "Chang" to his initials because it was (and is?) so quintessentially Chinese. My father happens to be a P.F. Chang. In the future, should he ever decide to open a restaurant, naming it after himself would pretty much be out of the question. Kinda sad, huh?

(Pictured: stir-fried cabbage and tofu, made by a real P.F. Chang.)
"Chinese restaurants in America tend to shy away from anything that is recognizably animal. Mainstream Americans don't like to be reminded that the food on their plate once lived, breathed, swam, or walked. That means nothing with eyeballs. No appendages or extremities (no tongues, no feet, no claws, no ears). Secondly, opacity. This means nothing transparent or even semitransparent (this eliminates certain kinds of fungus and all jellyfish). There is also a limit to the textures Americans will allow in their mouths: nothing rubbery or oddly gelatinous (no tripe and, again, no jellyfish or sea cucumber). There is also an acceptable color palate. Nothing organic should be too black (no black seaweed or black mushrooms). Nothing made with flour should be too white (steamed white buns have the undone look of the Pillsbury Doughboy; toasty brown is better)."